THE multi-media experience that is National Trust for Scotland’s Battle of Bannockburn visitor attraction and recent BBC-funded and Neil Oliver-fronted archaeological investigations notwithstanding, it is my understanding that the precise location from which proud Edward’s army was sent hameward tae fight again is still a matter of some debate.

Recently, however, it has been easy to locate the encampment of Robert the Bruce, just next to the King’s Knot medieval garden below Stirling Castle on the Western side. The Outlaw King has been based there for sorties to Doune and Blackness Castles as Scots director David McKenzie makes an historical drama of that title for Netflix. A substantial collection of Winnebagos, catering facilities and equipment trucks, looking like a fairground without any rides or a huge gymkhana with no ponies, has been based on a site that has previously seen service for Stirling Marathon and on Armed Forces Day, and is zoned by the local authority for permanent use as an area for major events.

If you have a longer memory, the name of Falleninch Field may take you back to July 14, 1990, and the STUC’s Day for Scotland, organised with promoter Regular Music and Stirling District Council. An event designed to mobilise the masses in support of what had become “devolution” rather than “home rule”, this “Festival for Our Future” featured Runrig, Hue & Cry, John Martyn, Test Dept, The Fini Tribe and The Shamen as well as theatre companies 7:84 and Wildcat. The fact that the same tract of land has become the temporary home for a film unit retelling the story of King Robert for a global audience is either fitting or further evidence of the fictionalisation of the Scottish experience, depending on your point of view.

Loading article content

It was, however, drawn into the contemporary reality of Scotland and the future of its arts sector 10 days ago when Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop was photographed on the set of Outlaw King. After all, £1m of public money had helped entice the production to its Scottish locations, creating vastly more in terms of spending to benefit the local economy, and the Scottish Government used the film-making as the backdrop to its announcement of the creation of a new Screen Unit under the auspices of Creative Scotland (CS).

As it transpired, the £10m announced for that initiative, rising to double that over the next couple of years, was just the trailer for the bigger news in the draft budget unveiled days later that culture spend from Holyrood is to rise by almost ten per cent, with the shortfall in receipts from the National Lottery being underwritten to maintain a sustainable level of resources for Creative Scotland. Concerns about that deficit had already been relayed by the Scottish Government to Westminster Culture Secretary Karen Bradley, so the Edinburgh Parliament’s unilateral action leads the way, recognising, as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in a message on Twitter, that the relatively small proportion of the budget allocated to spending on the arts produces disproportionate results.

The announcement of the Screen Unit could also represent an important direction for the arts to steer wider policy-making. Since Creative Scotland was brought into being through the “shotgun marriage” of two agencies, Scottish Screen and the Scottish Arts Council, there has been constant discontent that the film-makers lost out. The new unit is clearly recognition that some sort of dedicated body, albeit still under the aegis of CS, is required to give the sector the support it needs.

It would be good to see this as another example of the arts leading the way. As a nationalist administration is ideologically bound to do, the drive at Holyrood has been towards centralisation, with far from consistently positive results. Police Scotland is the most notorious example but many of those involved in the search for the actual site of King Robert’s famous victory have also been particularly unimpressed by the merger of uniquely-purposed bodies to create the new Historic Environment Scotland. If the Screen Unit signals the first move to row back from diminishing respect for areas of specialism, as well as for local democracy, then Fiona Hyslop may find she is leading her troops in a vote-winning direction.